As someone with a limited budget and an unlimited imagination, I’m always attracted to low-cost volunteer experiences with organizations that still hold themselves to top-of-the-line standards. There aren’t a ton of organizations that do both and understandably so. It costs money to be idealistic. I feel so jaded just writing that. I’m reminded of my college freshman self, that girl who was so determined never to get paid for her art. Back in those days I was making a very popular podcast with thousands of viewers, but I refused any kind of compensation. I was making it for the right reasons! I wasn’t about to sell out! I think a lot of the volunteer organizations that share that idealism fail. They fail because they can’t support their staff, they can’t fund new projects, and they can’t invest in marketing or publicity. On the opposite extreme are the greedy organizations—the groups that charge exorbitant fees and pocket most of them. They may look professional and flashy, and for good reason: they’ve got plenty of money. Clearly there is a happy medium here, an organization that remembers the details but doesn’t sweat the luxury.
This week I found that organization. They strike the perfect balance between frugality, sustainability, and excitement. I also love their name: Openmind Projects. The name is what first attracted me to their website and they are true to it. Their projects are varied and exciting, from community-based building projects to conservation to education. They have opportunities for gap-year students, professional career break volunteers, retirees, and families. Their projects are in Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and Nepal. Their website could use a bit of an overhaul, but it has all the information an aspiring volunteer needs to plan a trip.
It’s clear that they are very purposefully pricing their opportunities as affordably as they can. After all, they are competing in a very busy space. Their typical two-month experience costs only $700. Compare that to a two-month stay with I-to-I ($1100), Projects Abroad ($2000), or Cross-Cultural Solutions (a whopping $3200). I’m not suggesting all of these organizations are overpriced, in fact, there are many amenities they offer that may make the price tags worth it for some travelers. But for the budget-conscious volunteer looking for an exotic, sustainable, responsible experience overseas, Open Mind Projects offers all the essentials. They’ve also been recognized by several big names in the industry including: CNN, Unesco, Lonely Planet, and National Geographic. OMP is also a member of the International Ecotourism Society.
Here at Journeys for Good we are committed to growing a community of global citizens. We celebrate volunteer travel experiences, volunteer heroes, and organizations that make a difference.